Brewer’s Blood

Minnesota’s Schell’s Brewery Celebrates 150 years of keeping it in the family

Andrew Penkalski

There is a peculiar vein of old, immigrant pride that seems to course through the community of New Ulm, Minn. For example, a 30-foot statue of Germanic tribal chieftain Hermann, a man who negotiated Germania’s protection from Roman conquest back in A.D. 9, rests at the center of the city. An esoteric page in history doesn’t seem to warrant this level of spectacle, but that is New Ulm’s dedication to legacy. Such ideology seems to be wholly ingrained in the town’s pride and joy — Schell’s Brewing Company.

Currently in its sixth generation of family operation, this year marks the brewery’s 150th anniversary. For a bit of perspective, this is the same year Anheuser-Busch began production and only five years after Miller Brewing entered the arena.

However, any of the current family members will happily explain that, unlike their corporate counterparts, it is all about tradition.

“Each generation that steps up to run it is looking for new ways to continue their legacy,” said Liz Prunty, whose official title at the company is Innovator and Organizer-of-Ideas.

Over the past decade, Minnesota beer fans have undoubtedly noticed the fruits of this familial labor. Last spring, liquor stores had difficulty keeping Schell’s Nordeast addition to the Grain Belt family in stock.

“We definitely wanted to pay some homage back to the original Grain Belt neighborhood,” Prunty said. The brewery acquired production rights to the Grain Belt line in 2002.

In conversation, it appears that the central players in the Schell family business are willing lifers. This is easy to understand considering the familial environment. Jace Marti, who is a member of the family’s 6th generation of brewers, spent his childhood stomping across the lush grounds of the brewery’s renowned Schell mansion.

“To me, it was just grandma and grandpa’s house,” Marti said.

Current President Ted Marti, Jace’s father, started work during high school, fulfilling the less inspired work of keg washing and various bottle house duties. He later served as the company’s brewmaster before becoming president in 1986.

With Marti now keeping tabs on the brewery’s managerial operations, he can easily sing from experience the benefits of small-scale brewing.

“People from larger breweries may be in the brewing department, but don’t know a whole lot about the bottling,” Marti said, “In a small brewery, everyone is involved in some way.”

However, Schell’s still makes sure its key cooks gain a certain worldly inspiration. Jace Marti leaves in January for brewing studies at the Versuchs-und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin, a name that effortlessly rolls off his tongue during conversation.

This weekend, Schell’s will be throwing its 150th “Schellabration.” Those making the pilgrimage will have an evening of brew and bands to look forward to on Friday as well as an open house at the Brewery Saturday afternoon. It’s a time undoubtedly steeped in that New Ulm German tradition.

“Everyone who works here can live and breathe that legacy. It’s like one big family,” Prunty said.

The Schell’s name has undeniably become an iconic piece of Minnesota culture. It will likely stay that way so long as the family is behind it.